As a noon-time bell tolled on Thursday, dozens of students milled about college recruitment tables along a walkway at El Camino College in Torrance.
Nearly two dozen were here, including perhaps the most well known black institution of higher learning, Howard University, as well as Dillard University, Grambling State University, Xavier College and Talladega College. Each had colorful cloth or vinyl banners boasting school colors and logos.
Southern California is a major recruitment stop for historically black universities. El Camino College in Torrance is taking advantage of that. It has a new guaranteed transfer agreement with many black schools.
Nearly a quarter of El Camino’s students are African American. Many are curious about the southern colleges, founded in the 1800s to give African Americans a shot at a college education. Second year student Destiny Johnson asked a lot of questions at the Howard University table.
"Kappas? Alumnis? Like step, all of that, they’re good? I don’t want to get just into books, books, books, I’ll go crazy, crazy, crazy," Johnson asked Howard alumus Bradford Benham, who lives in L.A. and works in film production. Benham tells Johnson that Howard was a lot of fun, and a lot of work. Johnson says Cal State and University of California campuses don’t excite her as much as Howard University.
"My goal is physician assistant, this school is for medical and science and I know that’s somewhere I want to be where its an excellent record of that," she said.
Veteran El Camino College counselor Elaine Moore organized this college fair. She said student interest in black colleges and universities is on the rise here. She’s filed 50 student transfers so far this year. Moore worked with those schools to create a unique transfer agreement. It guarantees admission, if the student meets the grade and course requirements.
"It’s a very critical time right now because of the lack of funding in California higher education and the decrease in the number of students admitted from high school and admitted from the community college to the Cal States and the UCs in the state," Moore said.
And that’s pushing more Southern California students to consider a historically black school. Alumnus John Terry proudly wears a deep purple golf shirt and baseball cap with the logo of Prairie View A&M in Texas. He’s pitching the small campus to two El Camino students majoring in sociology and nursing.
"The professors know you, it’s not like you’re a number. My wife went to USC, she was in this big class, you know 300 people, who knows you. Nobody. But if you go to one of these small schools, when you get into your major, maybe 15 to 20 kids," Terry told the students.
The nursing student, Victoria Villalpando, is very interested in the school, mostly because she grew up in California and wants to leave for college.
"It doesn’t matter if its African American or any type of school. I went to UCR and it was all Latinos, and I was like, so what. I could go to any college I want, it doesn’t matter if it’s a black college, a Latino college, an Asian college, you know, college is college," Villalpando said.
James Minor, with the Southern Education Foundation, said integration, the economy and the rise of for-profit colleges have all cut into enrollment numbers at black schools. Now they have to find new ways to fulfill their post Civil War mission.
"The large majority of them were established at that time to provide higher education opportunities for African Americans and they produced the black middle class, according to some, a generation of doctors, lawyers, school teachers, etc.," Minor said.
So now they come to places like El Camino College, making that promise to students of all races.